The madness of March is here, and Shurna's Wildcats have a shot to reach the Big Dance for the program's first time. The spotlight is on Northwestern.
"It's exciting," said Shurna of the attention on his team. "In order to achieve our goals, we're going to have to treat it like a normal game and continue to stay focused, even with the extra media attention."
Northwestern enters the conference tournament with much speculation surrounding its hopes of reaching the NCAA's 68-team field. Many experts have the Wildcats as one of the last teams on the bracket, but their trip to Indianapolis provides a chance to boost their odds.
For the Wildcats, the constant speculation of the Big Dance doesn't serve as a distraction, but rather, a motivator.
"We can't wait for the opportunity we have this weekend," freshman point guard Dave Sobolewski said. "We don't know what it takes to get in; obviously, nobody really knows. We're going to enter every game expecting to win, we're going to go out there and give it our all, and hopefully, get that chance to play in the NCAA Tournament."
While media members and outside observers tally style points and project the 68-team NCAA Tournament field, the Wildcats are sticking to their one-game-at-a-time approach.
"We try not to listen to that-- what people are saying on the outside," said junior forward Drew Crawford. "We focus on what we're doing as a team and taking it every game at a time. We're really just looking forward to Thursday against Minnesota."
NU's first-round opponent, the Golden Gophers, are a familiar foe. The two teams have met in four of the past five conference tournaments, and also matched up twice this season, splitting the season series.
The rubber match serves as a do-or-die contest for the Wildcats and their high postseason hopes. They're not sweating the challenge.
"I don't think we feel too much pressure, it's more (a feeling of) hunger," said Crawford. "We're really excited to get these games underway, we're eager to go out and win."
Northwestern could push itself into the NCAA Tournament with a win or two at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. However, that's not the team's main goal. The 'Cats have their sights set on higher aspirations.
"It's not just about winning games or just trying to get (enough wins to qualify for) the NCAA Tournament," sophomore guard Jershon Cobb said after Saturday's win over Iowa. "We think we're a good enough team to win it."
The Wildcats' potential run in the tournament would include a second-round meeting with top-seeded Michigan -- a team that held off NU for two overtime wins -- and if they can advance, likely an even greater challenge awaits.
Northwestern's goal is attainable, but surely a tough task. The battle-tested 'Cats aren't running from the proposition.
"We're not scared of any team in the league," Sobolewski said. "We feel like we can play every team tough, like we have this season. We're excited for the tournament."
A great -- extraordinarily important -- challenge awaits the Wildcats in Indianapolis. The madness is upon us.